The Shield of Kuromori

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for The Sword of Kuromori. You can read my review of this novel [here]

The Shield of Kuromori was written by Jason Rohan and first published in 2015. It forms the second part of the The Sword of Kuromori trilogy and tells the continuing adventures of Kenny Blackwood as he defends Japan from evil oni. The novel is preceded by The Sword of Kuromori (2014) and followed by The Stone of Kuromori (2016). Because of this, I would certainly recommend reading the books in sequence to fully appreciate them.

Although Kenny managed to use his newfound powers to prevent the dragon Namazu from destroying America, his work is far from done. As he and Kiyomi patrol the streets of Tokyo in search of troublesome yōkai, they come across something completely unexpected. A band of powerful oni have broken into an observatory and seem to be trying to steal a telescope. Oni are normally beings of hatred and violence. It seems unthinkable that anyone should be able to convince them to work as a team.

Yet, as strange as the oni are behaving, it is not Kenny’s biggest concern. Ever since he brought Kiyomi back from the dead, she has been acting strangely. Although she has always been fiery, she has never been so aggressive before and certainly never openly disobeyed her father in order to pick fights with yōkai. It’s not long before Kenny realises that it’s all his fault. Because he played with fate and transgressed the laws of nature, Kiyomi is starting to change. It will not be long before she loses her humanity altogether.

Kenny has one chance to save her but it requires making deal with a god who is known for being untrustworthy. All the god wants in return are two legendary treasures – a mirror and a stone – but the whereabouts of these are unknown. With time running out, Kenny must decide where his loyalties lie. Does he abandon his friend to find out what the oni are up to, or save Kiyomi and risk the lives of everyone in Japan?

The Shield of Kuromori is a strong second instalment of this series and is certainly a novel that will appeal to reluctant young readers. Its rapid pace and vivid fight scenes bring to mind classic shounen manga like Dragonball and the action rarely lets up as Kenny travels across Japan and battles with many different kinds of yōkai.

If you enjoyed the first novel in this series, chances are that you will love this one too. While Rohan still takes a few liberties with Japanese legends, the story is enjoyable and surprisingly educational. Now that Kenny is getting used to living in Japan, this time he visits a nice selection of tourist destinations. The story takes the time to show Kenny learning Japanese etiquette, including how to behave while visiting a shrine and during a tea ceremony. It also uses a lot of Japanese words and phrases over the course of the story, all of which are explained in the extensive glossary for easy reference. I did still really enjoy this as it helped make the story feel authentic and was a fun way to learn about a different culture.

However, I did feel as though the plot was perhaps a little too busy this time around. While it was exciting and certainly kept my attention throughout, The Shield of Kuromori did sometimes feel a bit unfocused. The story begins with an oni attack on an observatory but this doesn’t actually become significant for a long time. The focus quickly switches to the hunt for Kiyomi’s cure and does not actually return to the original plot until the climax. While the ending of the novel does certainly did stretch my suspension of disbelief, it was still great fun and is even more impressive than the battle against Namazu in the first book. It made me really excited to see how the final instalment of the trilogy is going to raise the stakes even further!

In terms of characters, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Kiyomi got a great deal of development this time around. This was something that I felt that The Sword of Kuromori was severely lacking, especially as she was initially presented as such a strong female character. Although she is still absent for a large portion of The Shield of Kuromori, she was still given plenty of time to shine and even a vital role to play in the climax.

Kenny is also very likeable but I still have a bit of a problem with how he is portrayed within the story as the prophesised chosen one. This is a purely personal thing but I’m just not a huge fan of characters of this type. I find it a bit frustrating that Kenny is a gaijin, yet is able to easily surpass his Japanese allies who have been studying for decades. While a reason for this is given in the first book, I still find it to be a little unsatisfying. However, it was good to see that Kenny is still fallible. Even though he is powerful, he still is prone to making silly mistakes. It’s interesting to see how even the things that he did with the best intentions are now coming back to haunt him.

I also found the story to be a bit varied in terms of its villains. While the book is packed with a fantastic selection of yōkai, mononoke and even urban legends, the primary antagonist is not revealed until the climax. Because of this, we were not given a lot of time to really get to know them or appreciate their motivations. However, while this villain was a bit underwhelming, this novel also introduced the character that will clearly become the ultimate bad guy. As The Shield of Kuromori did end on a mild cliff-hanger, I am very curious to see what this villain’s ultimate plan will be in the next instalment.

Anyhow, I think that I’ve probably said enough. While I did have a few small issues with the story, on the whole I was really pleasantly surprised by The Shield of Kuromori. The book was a very strong sequel, presenting a solid story in its own right. Its fast pace is bound to be a hit with young readers and I learned a whole bunch of useful Japanese words and phrases! I’m am certainly excited to find out how the series will conclude in The Stone of Kuromori!

The Shield of Kuromori can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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